When it comes to doling out advice on life, you can't beat a successful sports manager. That seems to be the current publishing credo, as represented by two big sales last week. The one which means most to New Yorkers is probably that of a book by Yankees manager J Torre, signed by Hyperion editor Gretchen Young, which he is calling Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks and Successes. According to the manager, who this year led his team to overwhelming success, culminating in a World Series sweep, "The lessons from managing baseball can be applied to business as well as to life." (There is probably particularly keen interest in how Torre copes with his own far-from-easy boss, George Steinbrenner.) The book, which will be co-written with Henry Dreher, was acquired pre-emptively from agent Jonathan Diamond of RLR Associates for "high mid-six figures" and is scheduled for publication next September. Meanwhile, expertise of a different kind has been lined up by Warner executive editor Rick Wolff, who has signed Duke's celebrated basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski ("Coach K'") for an as yet untitled "motivational and inspirational" title. Wolff said he had been after the coach, for some time to write a book, and when he learned he was available, through agent Robert Urbach of Washington-based David Falk Associates' Management Enterprises, he made a "very healthy" pre-emptive bid. "He's a consistent winner with class," said Wolff, "and I am looking for this to be a big hit for us."

There was a big flurry around town last week over a book by Jesse Ventura, the highly colorful former wrestler, talk show host and movie actor who has just been elected as governor of Minnesota. Ken Atchity of L.A.'s AEI literary management firm, who got to represent Ventura through his Hollywood agents, said he had offers from seven houses, which came down to a three-way race for the close. The deal was finally made for Villard by Ann Godoff and Bruce Tracy, with Tracy handling the climactic moments from a phone booth outside the Random offices (all the phones were out for two days). The winning bid was described as "in the mid six figures," and Atchity said he expects Ventura to deliver the book, called I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up, in a few months, subject to the pressures of his new job. "What I think all the interested editors sensed was Jesse's importance as a new voice in politics, a man who can speak some blunt truths," said Atchity. The book will be both a memoir of Ventura's several lives and a plea for a more responsive politics.

The name of Daniel Ellsberg is a familiar one to anyone who lived through the tumultuous years toward the end of the Vietnam War. As a government analyst, it was he who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, inspiring his own indictment on security charges, and in doing so probably helped hasten the end of the war. Since those stirring times he has been living as an anti-nuclear and environmental activist and a frequent lecturer to college groups, but has always pondered writing a book about it all. Now, says his new agent (of only six months), John Brockman, Ellsberg is ready, and in a brisk auction involving half-a-dozen participants, Viking's Wendy Wolf emerged the winner, for a mid-six-figures. "It was something I very much wanted," she said, "to read about that time through his eyes." Several other editors thought so, too. Brockman told PW he had never seen an author he was taking round generate such interest, even from people who could not have been politically aware 30 years ago. Ellsberg expects to deliver a finished manuscript inside of two years.

In July 1944 a horrendous fire swept through a Ringling Bros. circus in Hartford, Conn., killing more than 160 people and plunging the city into a gloom it took years to recover from. That is the story to be told again, with all his novelist's skills, by Stewart O'Nan, in Circus Fire, a book signed by Doubleday's new editor-in-chief Bill Thomas just before he was promoted last month. Thomas, who has not worked with O'Nan before, but thinks this is "the perfect narrative nonfiction subject for him," won the book at auction through agent Amy Williams at the David Gernert Agency. O'Nan, who this year published the acclaimed A World Away with Holt, has already done much research and begun to write, and the manuscript should be ready by next fall. Already, says Thomas, the author has found some extraordinary stories: of a survivor hidden as a child under a huge heap of bodies, at risk of drowning in the firemen's water; and an unscathed little girl whom no one ever claimed.

What do you do for an encore after you've won the PEN /Faulkner award? If you're Rafi Zabor, whose The Bear Comes Home won this year, you take off on a long journey in a vintage Mercedes to exotic corners of Asia Minor on a spiritual quest among the Sufi and dervishes of that remote region, then come back to write a long book about it. The result, I, Wabenzi (African dialect for someone wealthy enough to own a Mercedes) was recently offered around by his agent, Kathleen Anderson of Scovill Chichak Galen, and seven houses were sufficiently impressed by Zabor's novel to make offers. Five of them were so close together, in the low six figures, that Zabor flew in to see the customers in person. He chose Rebecca Saletan, hired away from Simon &Schuster nearly a year ago to perk up the North Point imprint at Farrar, Straus &Giroux; she offered on the basis of about a third of what will ultimately be a 700-page book. Saletan and Anderson concur that the book, a kind of spiritual memoir, is in the vein of Robert Pirsig's legendary Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Saletan adds: "Of all the times that comparison has been made, this is the only one that comes close." The book will take, she figures, a couple of years to finish.